Thursday, May 14, 2015

Admitting to imperfection

If you are a believer it is often hard to discuss the negative aspects of your values. It is hard to do so because you don’t want to be seen as a doubter to others or to cancel out the many positive aspects to a political, social or religious movement.

In many ways, Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist is a discussion of Feminism and in a way that acknowledges the flaws as well as the complexities of this social movement. But in doing so she separates the concept of feminism with the people who believe in it.

Like with any other movement, Gay struggles to reconcile the good that feminism can do with the flawed people that promote it. It is not to say that flawed individuals can only be found in the feminist movement but people are complex and it is hard to live up to any ideological standards 100% of the time.

Gay writes ‘when feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement’. Like most people, Roxane Gay knows too well that she is flawed which inspired her to write this book of essays.

She conceders herself a bad feminist because she isn’t familiar with feminism’s seminal works, she confesses to liking pink and sometimes likes to play dumb with the tradie.

But really, although I may not like pink (is purple close enough?), I must confess that I am also guilty of such misdemeanours. I haven’t read all of feminism’s seminal works and I like the odd show that the feminist movement would class as objectifying women as well as being a fan of chivalry.

Roxane Gay’s book is more than just about feminism but also about race and diversity offers as well as how we consume culture. As I read the book you can’t help being reminded that personal is political. I also was reminded that while the political has such a strong influence on people, individuals are able to promote societal change.                  

Roxane Gay on Professional Feminists

As with any interest group, there are people who take it so seriously that it becomes part of their personal brand. Everywhere in society we can spot the professional young person, disabled person, refugee and migrant – all with their success story that they like to always tell us about. As a result, society associates them with the group that they represent and their stories and views become the only ones we hear about.

Gay views on this are ‘Feminism, as of late, has suffered from a curtain guilt by association because we conflate feminism with women who advocate feminism as their personal brand’. As professions are fully human like the rest of us, anything bad that happens to these people reflects badly reflects badly on their community and vice versa.  
When issues arise in regards to a particular community/interest groups, these people are often, and sometimes unfairly, knocked down. This is what Gay has a problem with. She argues that ‘when these figureheads say what we want to hear, we put them up on a feminist pedestal, and when they do something we don’t like, we knock them right off and then say that there is something wrong with feminism because our feminist leaders have failed us. We forget the difference between feminism and Professional Feminists’.

The separation of the ideology and the people that represent it is an important one to remember. It is essential not to give up on what is important to us when people (including ourselves) don’t always live up to expectations.        

Roxane Gay on race in film and literature

Since Roxane’s parents were from Haiti, she has strong opinions about how people of colour are represented in film and literature.

I get the feeling that she is slightly conflicted in this regard. On one hand she wants to be able to write from the perfective of people whose reality is different to hers but at the same time she criticises those depict African Americans in film and literature. She argues that ‘I write across race, gender and sexuality all the time. I would never want to be told that I can’t write a story where a protagonist is a white man or a Latina lesbian or anyone who resembles me.’

She uses the hit book/movie The Help as an example of how the creators of this franchise gets it all wrong. Gay spends several pages writing about the movie’s racial inaccuracies and how she feels that the author ‘doesn’t write black women. She caricatures black women, finding pieces of truth and genuine experience and distorting them to repulsive effect’. While she argues that it was poorly researched, I think that it is almost impossible to write from someone else’s perspective without reverting to caricatures unless we’ve walked in their shoes.  
Why read Bad Feminism

Read this book if you want more than a book on feminism. Bad feminism is a clever and funny book that puts contemporary society under a microscope. 

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